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Chapter 4 focused on aspirant bodhisattvas and no-self teaching, the paradoxical recognition that there is no one on the path to Buddhahood . Buddhist wisdom stimulated reflection on the insubstantiality of creaturely existence and the spiritual benefits of that truth. In Christology , we explored creaturely no-self as a dimension of the incarnation that corresponds to a dimension of emptiness in the divine life itself. Our discussion also considered the extent to which the self that Buddhism rejects and the person that Christianity affirms are different and the extent to which they are similar. This chapter turns to the other end of the path, to the qualities of a fully realized bodhisattva. We explore commonality and tension regarding the unitive reality that is already the case: Buddha nature and divine immanence. Our comparison deals with the bodhisattva as Buddha, with Christ as God, and with creatures sharing in the divine nature. Our point of departure is the paradox that the one on the path is already Buddha and always has been. This is the teaching of tathāgatagarbha (“womb of the enlightened one”), a germ or inner reality that characterizes every sentient being. Buddhist meditative practice is not only a disruption of our normal mental patterns and their attachment to an unreal self. It is also an opening to the truth within those appearances. As our commentators understand Śāntideva, this underlying reality is Buddha nature.1 Buddha Nature When our sources describe the full qualities of Buddhas, they refer to something that is close at hand even though apparently so far away. Buddhahood is not in the distant future or on another plane of being any 5 The Bodhisattva as Buddha I M M A N E N C E A N D E M P T I N E S S 166 C h r i s t i a n R e f l e c t i o n s more than nirvāṇa is. Buddhahood is a present reality. The nature of everything in the conventional world is impermanent. But everything that is impermanent is truly empty. And the nature of the emptiness in all impermanence is Buddha nature. If no-self teaches that the conditions of suffering are actually not present, then Buddha nature teaches that enlightenment is an actual abiding condition that awaits recognition. Christians live with the tension of an already/not-yet dynamic in history regarding events, promises, and relations whose fullest meanings have yet to be worked out. Buddhists live in the tension of two contrasting perceptions that are simultaneously true at every instant. Buddhahood is described with superlatives that seem to imply transcendence . It is cosmic in scope. Buddhas are supreme in wisdom. Since they “perceive phenomena both in their nature and in their multiplicity , they have a knowledge of everything that is knowable.”2 And they are supreme in compassion: “With a great compassion that loves unconditionally and beyond reference, they teach the path and have the power to dispel all suffering and afflictive emotion.”3 Even exalted celestial Buddhas are only the enjoyment bodies of a Buddha, and their still-slightlyconditioned qualities are far short of the Buddha’s actual dharmakāya. All this suggests distance. But Buddhas become and remain such in association with two fields: the field of beings and the field of other Buddhas. Bodhisattvas can practice the perfections that cultivate compassion because of the appearance of other beings whose ignorance makes this possible. They are able to cultivate wisdom by taking refuge in the teaching and example of prior Buddhas. These two fields are totally different in their phenomenal qualities , yet without any intrinsic difference in nature. As Kunzang Pelden puts it, the Buddhas are “without defect and are endowed with every excellence , whereas beings are a mass of faults.”4 But they are equally essential to Mahāyāna Buddhahood. This is because “there is not the slightest difference between what is called ‘Buddha’ and what is called ‘beings’ in that all are endowed with the Buddha-nature.”5 Looking back from the perspective of attainment, one can see stages in a bodhisattva’s realization of bodhicitta that reflect growth in wisdom.6 At first, one regards all other beings with the same respect as one’s mother or father. Then one regards beings with the same care as one’s own self (the practices of equalizing and exchanging others are used at this point). Next, one realizes the sense in which self...


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